Chestnut Street Cemetery Apalachicola, Fl.

Chestnut Cemetery Gate

Having ridden past the old cemetery on the west side of Apalachicola for years, I finally decided to take a day after a deck build the day before to visit the cemetery and take some photos. This old cemetery always intrigued me however after visiting and walking thru it I am probably more intrigued now than before. To say this cemetery contains a lot of history would be an understatement! The cemetery is the oldest burying ground in Apalachicola and is the final resting place for many individuals who were responsible for the history and development of the area. There are approximately 560 marked graves in the cemetery and many more graves that are unmarked. A variety of tombstones decorate the cemetery, from simple vertical slabs from the 1830’s to elaborate marble monuments. A few graves are marked with simple wooden crosses or a blanket of shells with no name. Beginning in 1912 the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy marked the graves of all civil war veterans in the cemetery. There are at least 79 Confederate Veterans and 7 Union Veterans buried here.

The grave of Lt. Reuben L Harrison in the Chestnut Street Cemetery. There are 79 Confederate and 7 Union Veterans buried in the cemetery.

Upon entering the cemetery I located a white box on a post which contained information brochures regarding historical facts pertaining to those buried here. This pamphlet was actually a walking tour map/guide with information about the graves and the interesting lives of those entombed in them. While visiting the cemetery I encountered two other visitors there. One fellow from Perry, Florida was much like myself and always wanted to visit the cemetery. Later a woman was walking through and encouraged me to attend a bi-annual Ghost Tour through the cemetery sponsored by the Apalachicola Historical Society.

The Graves of Adolph and Mary Menke

One thing I noticed while visiting the cemetery is that most of the folks who are buried there did not live long compared to today. For some reason it seems that a lot of them didn’t make it past their forties. Most of the graves here are well in excess of 100 years old, in fact most seemed to have died prior to the 20th century.

Old Live Oak Trees in the cemetery have weathered many storms.
George Asher died in 1884, his ornate headstone depicts a finger pointing to the heavens.

One thing that is very impressive is the artistic design of many of the headstones. Many display very ornate and artistic designs that were no doubt expensive to produce and ship to this southern gulf side cemetery which is a testament of the love of surviving family members towards those buried here.

Weathered shoes with a message. These shoes have obviously been in the cemetery for a long time and sport a warning to anyone who may think to remove them!
Time has taken it’s toll on this slab that for some unknown reason has lifted off the ground. Nothing was visible underneath except leaves and soil.
William Thigpen only made it to 24 years and died in 1851, 170 years ago. His weathered headstone sports a Masonic symbol at the top.
Mary Allen’s loving family provided her with this beautiful headstone which was no doubt very expensive in 1905. Her epitaph reads “gone but not forgotten”.
Robert Gilpin’s headstone was very unique. He died at 36 years of age in 1844, 177 years ago.
John and Catherine Cook emigrated from Germany prior to the Civil War. John Cook came to Apalachicola and became a successful businessman. He operated a shipping business and a store in town.
Many graves in the cemetery are unmarked, a few like this one are fast becoming unmarked.
Many family plots are surrounded by old metal fences, this one is very ornate however time and weather has taken it’s toll.

Many people buried here made their living on or around the Gulf which is no great surprise. Charles Marks was a seaman and ship’s captain his entire life. Born in Connecticut he enlisted in the Confederate Army. His house was burned by the Union Navy during the war and he was accused of murder for the killing of two Union sympathizers.

Charles Dobson was a tugboat captain during the lumber boom. He built a grand house in Apalachicola for his girlfriend Minne Barfield who ran a bordello out of the house. After her death the property was passed to the Catholic Church and housed the nuns who operated the Holy Family School next door.

William Henry Austin is interred here. He worked for the Untied States Coastal Survey on the schooner Silliman performing a hydrographic survey of St. George Sound. After Church one Sunday morning six crew members including Austin tried to return to the schooner in a small sailboat. A sudden squall capsized the vessel drowning all six men.

Time has not been kind to many of the headstones in the cemetery. Someone has done a good job repairing and keeping them together.
Time and vandals have taken their toll.

Many people who are interred here were entrepreneurs who came to Apalachicola to seek their fortune, many immigrated from other countries looking for a better life.

Catherine Spano immigrated from Greece and married Salvadore Spano who was a seafood dealer. H.F. Quant immigrated from England and was a printer by trade. Richard Porter moved to Apalachicola in 1833 and along with his brother William entered the cotton trade. They became one of the most prominent families in Apalachicola. Corneilius and Elizabeth Grady immigrated from Ireland and had four children. Their two boys started a business known as J. E. Grady & Co on Water Street which sold ship chandlery, dry goods and hardware. Charles Lind was a seafood dealer and businessman, he loaned money to the Presbyterian Church in 1909 to build a sanctuary. When the congregation did not repay the loan he foreclosed on the church. There is a stained glass window in the Episcopal Church in his memory. Herman Ruge immigrated from Germany and started a successful mercantile business. He had two sons who established the first successful oyster cannery in Apalachicola. Geno Zingarelli immigrated from Bari, Italy. He operated a boat yard and had a fleet of sponge boats.

The cemetery contains many different kinds of monuments which no doubt were very expensive to create and had to be brought in by ship, rail, or wagon.

Many people resting here were involved in the Civil War.

William Marr was killed by Confederate forces during the Civil War while gathering cattle to supply to the Union blockades. John Ruan was taken hostage by the U.S.Navy to ensure the safe return of two Union Sympathizers who had disappeared during the war. Upon his release he was arrested by the Confederate Army for traveling between the lines. Peter Wise was a member of the Pennsylvania Calvary until his horse fell on him goring him on the saddle pommel. Lt. Sanders Myers served as a Lieutenant in the Confederate Army. He was captured and was one of the “immortal 600” Southern Officers held as human shields by the Union Army under Confederate fire at Charleston. Joseph Lawrence served in the Florida Calvary and was the last Civil War Veteran in Franklin County, dying in 1933.

A monument to the Ruge Family who immigrated from Germany.

The mighty Apalachicola River was a dangerous place back in the day and is credited with several people resting in the cemetery. Henry Gordon was a Riverboat Pilot on the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. Leander Crawford was a Steamboat Captain and was scalded when the boiler exploded at Bristol. John Jenkins took the first river steamboat up the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee Rivers to Columbus, Georgia in 1829, beginning the trade that made Apalachicola the third leading cotton port on the Gulf. Young Clarence Messina didn’t return home one evening in 1901and a search party found him in the river having drowned after falling off a dock. Louisa Bruni and Frank Messina were playing on a dock when Louisa fell into the river. Frank jumped in to save her but she latched onto him causing him to drown. When their bodies were recovered her arms were still wrapped around his neck.

Wrought Iron fences enclose many family plots in the cemetery.
This headstone was beautifully crafted.
After 141 years…

In the middle of the cemetery is a brick chimney. No one knows the significance of the chimney as it has stood in the cemetery as long as anyone can remember. Thought to possibly be a family memorial it has no identifying marks on it. For years it has served as a right of passage for local children to climb to the top before you were invited to play with the other kids.

The cemetery chimney, no one knows why its here.
The fence around Catherine Spano’s grave. Catherine was married to Salvadore who was a Greek immigrant who worked in Apalachicola as a seafood dealer. This unique gate was created by her nephew Salvadore Spano Jr. who was a blacksmith. This gate has held up very well.
Time has slowly taken a toll.
This unique configuration on the ground could be the resting place of a parent and two children but that is just a guess. It is unmarked.
Wrought iron fences surround many family plots throughout the cemetery.

Visiting this cemetery was a walk thru the history of Apalachicola, Florida. All of the graves I saw were in an excess of 100 years old. Walking thru I thought about the lives of those buried here. What they saw, how they lived, what Florida must have been like back then. I gathered that the people buried here were hard working people who came to this area in search of a better life. They fought for what they believed in and laid the groundwork for what this community is today. Many were immigrants who left their homeland and came here in search of a better life.

Many Thanks to the Apalachicola Historical Society for providing the information that is in this blog. They have done an outstanding job compiling the history of this cemetery. Twice a year the Historical Society conducts a Ghost Tour in which local history enthusiasts take on the personna of the cemetery’s more notable inhabitants to tell of life in Apalachicola more than 100 years ago.

About this blog: The images in this blog were taken by Dave Ferrell using a Canon EOS 1DX with a 16-35 2.8 lens in RAW format. Information was provided by the Apalachicola Historical Society.